2022 Course and Concert

30 October 2022 - Cadogan Hall, London

Final rehearsals for the 2022 Concert Final rehearsals for the 2022 Concert

Following the 2021 Concert, we sat down to discuss what could follow on from that incredible concert featuring the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, Saxophonist Jess Gillam playing Scaramouche and the accomplished performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 5. This was an enormous challenge to find a concert programme that would continue to raise the standard of the Orchestra and push our performers even further.

We chose to take on a piece in the Rite of Spring, which has been attempted by very few Youth Orchestras, in fact it is barely heard in the concert hall due to the standard required to put on a successful performance. Not only that, but the concert featured a challenging concert overture and one of Rachmaninoff’s most well-known pieces.

The first challenge was to recruit an orchestra capable and equipped to play the Rite of Spring. Stravinsky scored his ballet for an exceptionally large and versatile wind and brass section with the added challenges of finding Wagner Tubas, Piccolo and Bass Trumpets, and Alto Flute. The plan was for an orchestra of nearly 100 players, and on Sunday 30th October, 98 outstanding musicians took to the stage to put on the biggest and best ESO concert to date. Credit is due to Ellen Crann, our Recruitment Manager, for finding such an amazing group of musicians to attend the course.

The 2022 concert was held at London's Cadogan Hall on Sunday 30th October 2022 with the course held during the half-term week, Wednesday 26th October to Sunday 30th October at Dame Alice Owen's School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. This year, students returned to the popular Lincolnsfield Residential Centre for their overnight accommodation and dinner.

As is traditional at the English Schools’ Orchestra concerts, we started with the playing of the National Anthem. This year, in honour of the new King, the brass section played the National Anthem with Gordon Jacob’s introductory fanfare whilst the rest of the Orchestra sang in four-part harmony. The fanfare was just an introduction to the sound that the enlarged brass section would produce during the concert programme.

Our first piece was Elgar’s In the South (Alassio). This Concert Overture begins in typical Elgar style with rich strings, woodwind flourishes and brass fanfares before settling down to long lyrical melodies which represent a shepherd in his field. This is juxtaposed by the memories of an ancient battle which provide moments of intense excitement. This was the perfect piece to begin the concert and provided an excellent showcase for the larger than usual orchestra.

Recent concerts have featured performances by some excellent soloists and this year was no exception. Gabriele Strata left the audience and orchestra stunned with his performance of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Gabriele was supportive and inspiring to the young musicians around him and was constantly besieged during his break for selfies and words of advice. After such a powerful performance, Gabriele delivered a subtle and delicate encore, performing Eric Satie’s Gymnopedie no. 1.

Of course, the highlight and biggest challenge of the Orchestra’s 28-year history was the second half performance of The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. There was no riot at the end of this performance, as there had been at the premiere, but instead a standing ovation thoroughly deserved by every member of the Orchestra. There were nerves all round from players to the conductor before the performance and so the traditional speeches were moved to the first half to allow the players to settle straight into the piece after the interval. There were no nerves once the baton came down for the opening bassoon solo. The expertise required to play this piece is such that many professional musicians never get to play it during their careers, so this was a once in a lifetime experience for many of our young musicians as they consider their own future career as a professional. This was not the performance of an amateur youth orchestra but that which many experienced players would have been proud.

The challenge now is how do we follow that?

2022 Programme

(Click titles for more details)

  • Edward Elgar - In the South (Alassio)

    In the South (Alassio) is a concert overture composed by Edward Elgar during a family holiday in Alassio, Italy in the winter of 1903/04. During the holiday, Elgar set himself the objective of composing a symphony to be performed the following year at the Royal Opera House for Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The inspiration for the symphony eluded him and he began to dismiss the idea of writing anything worthwhile during the holiday until an afternoon walk near Andora, on the Italian Riviera, gave him the idea of writing a shorter concert overture.

    The work contrasts the peaceful scene of a shepherd in the fields with the memories of conflict that had taken place in that “very spot long ago”. At 20 minutes long, it was the longest continuous piece that Elgar had written to that date and is scored for full symphony orchestra.

  • Sergei Rachmaninoff - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Soloist Gabriele Strata

    Sergei Rachmaninoff left Russia at the start of the Russian Revolution and lived most of his working life overseas including the last few decades of his life in self-exile in America. Rachmaninoff is best known for his music for piano and orchestra including the four piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The Rhapsody is a set of 24 variations based on the 24th of Niccolo Paganini’s Caprices for solo violin. Unlike his piano concertos, the Rhapsody is formed of just one movement without breaks which can be divided into three sections.

    Rachmaninoff wrote the work during a break in his European tour of 1934 at his summer villa on the shores of Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. A noted performer in his own right, Rachmaninoff performed the solo at the premiere of the piece at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore, USA. We are delighted to be joined by Gabriele Strata, a multi-award-winning pianist, as our soloist for Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

  • Igor Stravinsky - The Rite of Spring

    Igor Stravinsky was born near Saint Petersburg and like Rachmaninoff, lived most of his life outside of Russia, gaining French and then American citizenship later in life. His father was an opera singer in the Kyiv Opera, and Stravinsky’s happiest times were spent at the house that he designed and built in Ustilug on the Polish border of north-eastern Ukraine. In 1910, Stravinsky met the owner of the Paris based Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, and together they conceived of a number of ballets including The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. It was in Ustilug that Stravinsky composed the first two parts of the Rite of Spring: “Augurs of Spring” and “Spring Rounds”.

    It is for the Rite of Spring that Stravinsky is most known. Based on an original idea by Nicholas Roerich, the ballet features a number of primitive pagan rituals celebrating the coming of spring, during which a young girl is sacrificed to the sun god Yarilo by dancing herself to death. The combination of this distasteful subject matter together with the unconventional music and choreography created the infamous “near-riot” at the opening performance in 1913. Stravinsky’s music experiments with rhythm, metre, tonality and dissonance and is scored for one of the largest ballet orchestras known. The orchestration includes large woodwind and brass sections adding two piccolos, two cor anglais, two contrabassoons, two bass clarinets, alto flute and two Wagner tubas to the usual symphony orchestra.

Rehearsal and Concert Photos - Click here to see album.
Photos by Justin Griffiths-Williams